KABUL, Afghanistan, June 29 (UPI) -- Militants attacked and held the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, for hours before NATO forces killed them on the hotel rooftop, ending the siege.
The daring attack, claimed by the Taliban, was launched by several gunmen and suicide bombers Tuesday night and lasted until early Wednesday culminating in a gun battle on the hotel's roof, Afghan authorities said. The Wall Street Journal reported the siege lasted about 6 hours, in yet another incident pointing to the Taliban's ability to penetrate security in the Afghan capital.
Seven Taliban and 11 others were killed in the siege, CNN reported.
The attackers had gained control of the hotel, favored by foreigners, before the fight reached the roof.
The incident comes at a time when the United States is set to begin its troop withdrawal and Afghan forces look to taking control of their country's security and defense.
The Post said the hotel is one of the best-protected facilities in the capital, located on a hilltop. Authorities were trying to figure out how the attackers succeeded in gaining entry into the area.
One police official was quoted as saying the attackers were in police uniforms.
The attack began when an explosives-laden vehicle was detonated near the hotel entrance. The gunmen and bombers then entered the hotel.
The Post said a wedding was in progress at the time in the hotel, which was also getting ready for a meeting the Afghanistan's provincial governors.
CNN quoted hotel resident Saiz Ahmed, an American student studying Afghan legal history, as saying there was gunfire for the next several hours interrupted by explosions.
"They might have been people blowing themselves up," said Ahmed, who heard six or seven such explosions.
He said he got calls on his cellphones, including from the U.S. Embassy, advising him to stay put.
"I wrote my little will -- just in case," he said, adding he put the document in his pocket.
About 6 hours later, he said he could hear English being spoken in the hallway yelling "fire" and urging guests locked in their rooms to come out.
He and other guests were later taken to the basement where they were checked by security personnel.
The Post said a Taliban spokesman claimed the attackers had killed at least 50 "foreign and local enemies," but Interior Ministry official Samoonyar Zaman told reporters that all 60 to 70 guests were safe in their rooms.
Jason Waggoner, a spokesman for the U.S-led coalition, said NATO helicopters were summoned because of several loud explosions at the hotel. He was quoted as saying the helicopter crews killed three gunmen and that Afghan security forces reached the roof from below and killed the remaining insurgents.
"We are still looking for more wounded and dead. Most probably they are hotel employees. Two attackers (were) shot dead while four of them blew themselves up," the Journal reported, quoting an Interior Ministry spokesman.
U.S. President Barack Obama was briefed about the attack while he was returning to Washington from Iowa, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.